The Facts on General Assistance
Governor Corbett’s budget proposes eliminating funding for Pennsylvania’s General Assistance (GA) cash assistance program. Doing this will almost certainly drive up homelessness and cost taxpayers more than it saves by forcing cash assistance recipients to seek out more expensive alternatives, such as beds in homeless shelters.
Here are the facts:
What is General Assistance?
General Assistance is a temporary assistance program for a small number of people who are otherwise unable to earn income. To qualify for General Assistance, you must meet one of the following criteria:
- You have a doctor-certified disability that prevents you from working;
- You are a survivor of domestic abuse fleeing your abuser;
- You are in a qualifying drug or alcohol abuse program that prohibits you from working;
- You are a child being cared for by an unrelated adult OR an adult caring for someone who is sick or disabled or for an unrelated child.
How much cash assistance is available to those who qualify?
In most counties, GA recipients receive $205 monthly, a cost that is much less than many alternative services.
How many people receive GA cash assistance?
About 68,000 Pennsylvanians receive GA cash assistance.
How long do people stay on General Assistance?
Most categories of GA recipients are limited to 9 months of eligibility. People with disabilities only receive assistance as long as their doctors certify that they are unable to work because of their disability.
Why are the savings from eliminating GA cash assistance illusory?
First, when a person who has received cash assistance from the state is determined to be eligible for federal disability benefits, the state is fully repaid for the cash assistance it provided, so in many cases, cash assistance is simply a loan.
Furthermore, while it is impossible to say exactly what will happen to those who have their GA cash assistance eliminated, it is clear that if you remove this last-resort safety net from the most vulnerable, many will be forced to turn to even more costly alternatives to ensure that their basic needs are met. This would quickly cancel out any savings from cutting GA cash assistance in the first place. For example:
- If even 18% of those who are cut off from GA cash assistance end up in shelters, the “savings” from cutting GA would be eliminated;
- If 7% of the people now receiving GA cash assistance were to end up in the criminal justice system, the “savings” from cutting GA would be eliminated;
- If not even 1% of those now receiving GA cash assistance were to end up in psychiatric hospitals, the “savings” from cutting GA would be eliminated.